Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring Clean Your Career Clutter!

Just as we tend to accumulate too much extraneous 'stuff' around the house, our careers can also become cluttered.  Over the years we tend to accumulate a lot of habits, processes, ideas and people that no longer serve us in moving along our chosen career path.  Sometimes, we have collected so much of this 'stuff' that our path becomes obscured.  If you've seen the show 'Hoarders', or the others like it, you now have a visual representation of what you may be having to wade through while trying to progress at work. 

Use the following points to help you get rid of that clutter, clear out the waste and to redefine your career path!

1.  Dust off that career plan that you made decades ago.  Take a look at where you are, both in terms of your career and life.  Where would you like your life to take you over the next 5 or 10 years and what role can/should your career play in fulfilling this?  Your career is not an isolated element in your life - it is an integral part of it.  Therefore, it should be viewed from within a whole-life perspective.  Once you have that bigger vision of what you want for yourself, break it down to consider what you can do this year to move it forward.  Each year you should repeat this exercise, reviewing what you accomplished the year before and determining what new steps need to be taken in the upcoming year to build on that past year's momentum. 

2.  Using the above plan, consider...are you spending your time on the activities that matter, or have you gotten bogged down in completing a lot of busy-making tasks?  You know... those activities that seem to keep you hustling and that fill your day, but do nothing to move you or your key objectives forward.  If so... start tossing!  This may require a more disciplined approach to the use of the word 'no' than you've been exercising up until now.  Too many of us get caught up in the cycle of 'busy-ness' without really qualifying the value of the activities we are engaged in.  For others, it is more an issue of getting caught up in doing for others and finding little to no time left over to doing anything for ourselves.  To get ahead we need to start thinking more strategically.  Your time is limited.  Therefore, you need to be spending 80% of your time on the 20% of the activities that net you the biggest results. 

To give you some perspective, try this exercise to see where you are at with your activities.  Take out a piece of paper and list your current 'to-do's'.  List them all!  Beside each I want you to indicate two things.  First, whether this is something that you are completing on behalf of yourself, or someone else, and then rank its relative importance (on a scale of 1-10) on you and your career. 

Take a look first at any items that you are doing for someone other than yourself and that have a neglible impact on your career progression.  These are the tasks that you need to get rid of and say No to in future.  You're likely engaged in them to be 'nice' to the other person, but if they are not providing you with enough of a positive impact, then you need to let them go.  Do it nicely, but learn to say no.

3.  Speaking of others... take a close look at those people that are in your 'career-sphere' and consider the purpose that they serve, to you both you and your career.  Are they a mentor?  Are they a coach?  Are they a contact or conduit to something more?  If they only provide criticism and negative feedback, leaving you second guessing yourself, it's time for a change!  Surround yourself with those that are going to challenge you in positive directions, who believe in you and genuinely want you to succeed.

For those of you familiar with my book It's Time Now, the Board of Directors exercise will serve you well here.  For those of you that aren't (shame on you!), create a list of the people that you are impacted by within the framework of your job and career, whether regularly or infrequently.  Consider what their degree of influence is over you (your thinking and decisions) and whether that influence is predominantly positive or negative in nature.  Review the list and strategically consider reducing or eliminating the role that anyone plays in your thinking that is more negative than positive in their outlook or influence.

The flip side of this is to examine who is missing from your list.  Do you need someone to mentor and coach you in developing certain skills?  Do you need a champion at work to help market you?  Do you need new sounding boards for your ideas?  Consider what gaps need to be filled to help you move forward and start filling those vacancies!

4.  Assess your Barriers.  Who, or what, is standing in your way, slowing down your forward movement?  Maybe you're missing a skill or some training, maybe you're lacking some information on options, maybe you have a boss that is holding you back to further themselves more.  Whatever the barriers are... list them out, providing details about the nature of the barrier and its impact on you and your career.  Identifying the barrier is, of course, only the first step.  Now you need to come up with an action plan of how to work through or around it.

Don't just take 'no' or 'can't be done' or 'you aren't', 'you haven't' for an answer.  What do you need to do to reduce or eliminate that barrier?  Often, clients will define the action needed and realize it's not as insurmountable as they envisioned.  If we only focus on the fact that there is roadblock, then we will sit down and bemoan the fact that we're blocked.  Defining the possible ways to overcome that barrier though defines a course of action you can take to overcome it.  Think the whole thing is overwhelming?  Then identify one small step that moves you forward.  Don't worry about overcoming the barrier in one hurdle if that is too big or intimidating.  Take one step.  You will be amazed at how just a single step forward can create the momentum you've been looking for.

5.  Freshen up your impact.  Spring is a great time for this exercise because you may already be scrutinizing yourself a little more closely in the mirror, thinking of the shorts (or bathing suit) to soon come!  Consider what your physical impression is and whether it is projecting the career message of your choice.  What shifts, changes or tweaks are needed to tighten your look, to deliver a stronger, more favourable, impression of You, to your audience.
  • Clothes too tight?  Buy the right size, set up a workout schedule or... do both!
  • Time for a more updated haircut, pair of glasses, cleaner teeth or...?
  • Need a wardrobe overhaul to add a more updated edge?
  • Do your presentation or vocal skills need some help to strengthen your impression?
5 key steps, but I know that they are by no means easy ones.  What you will find though, is that once you have gone through these steps once, your annual reviews and planning updates will be easier, if only because you only have a year to have built up clutter, not your life to date!  Getting rid of the 'stuff' we've collected can be an emotionally challenging exercise.  However, it is nothing compared to the emotions that keeping all of the clutter inour lives puts us through each day.  Really challenge yourself to throw one thing away.  Just one.  Something that doesn't work for you anymore, a habit that is holding you back.  Once you've done this...  take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and see if tossing that second item isn't just a little bit easier!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Likeability Trap

In general, we all like to be liked.  As a result, we will engage in behaviours, often unconsciously, designed to get our audience to be positively disposed toward us.  Research has shown us that feeling and believing that others like and respect us can be a great source of personal pride.  It can go a long way to helping shape our internal beliefs about ourselves.

Knowing that we're a 'good' person, and believing that others know and see this as well, can be a source of comfort to us when we find ourselves in a conflict with someone else.  It can help us feel good about ourselves, despite someone else's attempt to make us feel bad.

Likeability then, the extent to which we believe we are liked by others, can have a very definite and positive impact upon us.  It can increase our confidence and belief in ourselves and enhance our self esteem.  Research has shown that likeability also has other, perhaps lesser known, benefits.
  • a customer's fondness (or liking) of their salesperson will weigh up to twice as much in their purchasing decisions as their regard for the products.  This is the foundation for the emphasis on Relationship-based selling processes.
  • creating that likeability bond establishes a presumption of goodwill and friendship through future contacts.  Others will be more favourably disposed to you and will interpret your future behaviours in a more positive and favourable light.
  • people that are 'liked' tend to be hired and promoted faster. 
It's all good then, right?  To be successful, our strategy should be to do all that we can to be 'liked' by as many people as possible...right?  Perhaps not.  As with all things in life, it seems that there can even be 'too much of a good thing' when it comes to likeability.  Balance, even here, is the key.

There is a downside to being too likeable, too friendly, too nice.  It seems those individuals that skew too heavily to the right on the the likeability continuum, will undermine their credibility.  They are no longer seen as strong, confident and capable, but instead seem weak, indecisive and a follower.  So much of their behaviour is oriented toward fulfilling the needs and wants of others that 'they' get lost in the process.

This overwhelming need to be liked by others will undermine your sense of self, rather than build it up.  It's not often labelled the 'Disease to Please' for nothing!  People who find that they orient their entire day (if not life) toward the fulfillment of everyone else's needs will likely find their own being sacrificed.  This can lead to feelings of disappointment, dissatisfaction and disillusionment.

Unfortunately, they will then typically fall back to the one behaviour that has made them feel good about themselves in the past and do more of it.  Pleasing others!  They work harder to please others and obtain their praise.  The Likeability Trap has now decisively clicked shut around them, catching them up in an endlessly looping cycle of behaviour.

To break out of this spiral of behaviour it is necessary to take a good look at just who you are trying to please and why.  Create a list of people in your life that influence how you think, feel and act.  (For those of you that have a copy of my book - It's Time Now - use The Board of Director's exercise)

Now assess their relative worth and value to you.  Is their influence predominantly positive or negative?  Are they helping move you forward in your life or holding you back?  Our time and energy are limited.  We therefore want to ensure that we narrow down the list of people we are working to please to include only those individuals that you receive a positive benefit from.  There must be an advantage to you for your investment in them!

Positive relationships are not one-sided.  They're reciprocal.  Establish the balance in your life by ensuring that you invest in the relationships that net you a positive return.  The others?  Well... take a lesson from Donald Trump on this one...  Fire 'em!